Legislature considers controversial restrictions on abortion

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Florida lawmakers are inching closer to additional restrictions on abortion, by considering measures that focus on the viability of a fetus outside the womb.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB 918 on Tuesday with a vote along party lines; the House expects to accept their version (HB 1047) on Wednesday.

Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida reports that the current state law bars most abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy, but both bills go further by requiring physicians to conduct an assessment prior to any abortion to judge the viability of the fetus.

If the fetus is determined to be viable, the abortion is not allowed; the new legislation effectively prevents any abortion after about 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Supporters say medical advances can allow a fetus to be viable earlier than the 24 weeks under current Florida law.

“Because of medical advances, there are babies that are being born at 20, 21, 19 weeks,” said Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, sponsor of SB 918.

Opponents, such as Sen. Arthenia Joyner, tells the News Service the bills “tie the hands” of physicians.

The proposal, if passed, will not affect most abortions. In 2013, Florida had 71,503 reported abortions, 65,098 of them occurred in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Only 6,405 were performed during the 13th to 24th week, and none performed later than 24 weeks.

Controversy over the bills is from proposed changes in circumstances for legal third-trimester abortions. Florida law allows third-trimester procedures only when necessary to protect the mother’s life or maintain her health.

The bills establish more restrictive standards, where allowed third-trimester abortions are only to save a pregnant woman’s life “or avert a serious risk of imminent substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman other than a psychological condition.”

That standard will apply to abortions performed after viability if the additional legislation passes, Saunders writes.

Voting for the Senate bill were Republican Chair Tom Lee and Sens. Rob Bradley, Andy Gardiner, Jack Latvala, Garrett Richter, and John Thrasher. Voting “no” were Democrats Joyner and Sens. Jeremy Ring and Darren Soto.

In criticizing the change, Joyner brought up doctors taking into account the mental health of the mother.

“I would argue that the psychological state of the mother if it’s something that is unstable, could easily be determined within the first 20 weeks of being able to make the abortion and isn’t something that needs to continue on to the next trimester and a half,” Florida asked the committee.

Flores countered by asking, “That’s your opinion. Do you have any medical data to substantiate your feeling?”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.